Loco Parentis: So Far Away

My daughter is having an adventurous life of her own, without me. Is it time for me to follow her lead?

“You don’t have to do this,” I reminded her, silky as the serpent in the Garden of Eden. If I could talk her out of the trip, she’d be less Doug’s child, more mine.

I lost. They went, and came home full of stories: It rained, and their tents leaked like crazy. They ate wild berries. They were chased by a bear. They forged on. Once again, in true heroic-journey fashion, the end of the pain somehow made all the pain worthwhile.

ANOTHER PHONE CALL. Another life plan. This time, Marcy brings up the Peace Corps. My heart folds in on itself. Of course I want her to care about impoverished third-world nations, but can’t she care about them the way I do — from a distance? If she joins the Peace Corps, I won’t see her for two whole years — unless I’m willing to fly to Mexico or Guatemala or Ecuador, and ride a rickety bus or a burro or llama into remote mountains without being able to say much more than “¡Hola!” in Spanish. But I can’t argue against it, because what kind of parent would try to talk her child out of joining the Peace Corps? She’s making a total hippie poseur out of me.

And she isn’t just opening herself to the world — she’s barging into it. Her roommate, Susan, is a lovely young woman from Kenya who once explained to Marcy that when she marries, her betrothed will have to give her parents 15 cows as recompense for her Dicklenburg education. Susan also argues, forcefully, that Americans should just shut up about female genital mutilation, because for some people — her people — it’s a cultural ritual replete with significance and grace.

My college roommate was from Somerville, New Jersey — and I liked it that way.

For so much of Marcy’s life, I was holding her hand, tugging her along, encouraging her to be strong, be brash, be brave, shouting up at her as she wavered on the high-ropes course: Go ahead! I was so sure she was timid and fearful, like me. She wasn’t, though. I was so homesick when I went to Girl Scout sleepaway camp that my parents had to come and retrieve me. Marcy wasn’t homesick at all, not for the whole two weeks.

She was afraid of the dark. I never fought with her about that; I let her keep a light on at night because I’m afraid of the dark, too. Now she’s brave in pitch-blackness, whether she’s in a tent on the trail or a squatter’s hut in Mexico. There’s no telling where she’ll wind up. What if she moves to someplace like Oaxaca, marries and has kids there? What if she never comes home?